Google Analytics: In the focus of privacy advocates

Protecting my privacy on the web is important for me. Nevertheless, I feel that the discussion around privacy on the Internet has heated up more and more in the last years – too much. Now, some privacy advocates even start claiming that the statistics service Google Analytics were illegal in Germany. But social networks and large web companies, like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and more platforms get into the focus of privacy advocates quite often, too. Why?

Google is one of the companies that had and have to take rather much criticism. Everything started when Google launched their new e-mail service Gmail in 2004. Privacy protectors were much worried – as Google uses contents of the messages that users send and receive to display personally customized advertisements.

Google has to read my e-mail to guess my interests and to be able to display matching ads in Gmail. But exactly this collides with the secrecy of the post, according to privacy advocates and the U.S. Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Concerning Gmail, this is not a real problem in my opinion, as it is not employees reading my e-mail, but automatic programs – in fractions of a second, and completely anonymous. Here the displayed ads help to ensure that Google can continue to offer its e-mail service for free. I find: That’s totally okay.

In the meantime, Google has the reputation of a data hydra. Maybe not totally incorrectly. In any case, Google knows what I am watching on Youtube, where I am at the moment (Google Maps location service, for example on iPhone), what my house looks like (Street View), who my friends are (Android cell phones and Gmail contact list), which web sites I like to surf (Google Chrome browser), what I like to read (Google eBookstore), and which things I am shopping for on the Web (Google Shopping search).

But why the current discussion around Google Analytics? It is a statistics service used by website operators, bloggers and shop owners to get more information about their visitors. Therefore, data about your browser, your screen resolution and your operating system are sent to Google as soon as you open any website making use of Google Analytics.

The total collected data are not suitable for an exact location detection or definition who I am as visitor of the website. Plus, the collected user information is made available to the site owner only in anonymized form, for example: “50% of your visitors use 1024 times 768 pixels as screen resolution.” Here I see clear advantages for the owners – and finally for me, the visitor, as well. Finally it is me drawing advantage from the website knowing me well, being optimized for my needs and browser features. This is why uses Google Analytics as well.

Collecting these anonymous data – yes, my IP address belongs to them as well, as it changes once per day anyways – does not appear to be a big problem for me. I think it does not collide with privacy guidelines. And I am sure that if there is a test court case, it is going to have a similar judgment. After all, I live in Europe, and I should be allowed to make use of tech to my advantage. And Google belongs to tech as well.